Copyrighted Material

A book with the provocative title The Origins of Jewish Mysticism requires some comment on the terminology used. I will begin with the term “mysticism” in general, then discuss the implications of the modifier “Jewish” – the phases of Jewish mysticism and the viability of the notorious concept of mystical union (unio mystica) – continue with remarks on the quest for the “origins” of Jewish mysticism, and conclude by elaborating the principles that will guide me through my inquiry and outlining the book’s structure.

Any attempt to define mysticism in a way that allows the definition to be generally accepted is hopeless. There is no such thing as a universally recognized definition of mysticism, just as there is no such thing as a universally recognized phenomenon of mysticism or notion of mystical experience. In fact, there are almost as many definitions of the term as there are authors – if the authors even bother to define the object of their study at all. Mystical experiences differ greatly from culture to culture; the particular cultural and religious conventions within which a “mystic” lives make his or her mystical experience culturally specific. This becomes immediately clear from the very use of the words “mysticism” or “mystic,” which derive from the Greek root myein, meaning “to shut the eyes”; accordingly, the mystikos is someone who shuts his or her eyes in order to shut out the mundane world and experience other realities. Hence the derivative myeō, “to initiate into the mysteries,” and more frequently the passive myeomai, “to be initiated.” More specifically, the mystēs is the one who is initiated into the Greek mystery cults and who participates in secret rituals that dramatize certain myths (such as the mystery cult at Eleusis, as early as the seventh century bce). The mystikos or the mystēs, therefore, is connected to the “mysteries” of these mystery cults; that is, the word acquires also the coloration of secrecy and privacy. No one today would claim that this very specific meaning of initiation into mystery cults prevailed as a common denominator in all or even many later manifestations of mysticism – although, to be sure, the notion of “secrecy” and “mystery” remained an important aspect of what might be dubbed “mysticism.”

Copyrighted Material



Hence, despite its explicit connection with ancient mystery cults, “mysticism” is, in modern scholarly terminology, not an emic but an etic term, that is, a term that was not actually used by the people who practiced mysticism (clearly not in antiquity) but was invented by modern scholars in order to define and classify certain religious experiences. In this respect, “mysticism” is akin to that other notoriously problematic term, “magic” – a term that some scholars want to exorcize from the politically correct scholarly vocabulary.1 Nevertheless, if we look at certain definitions of mysticism in handbooks of religion or in popular dictionaries, we encounter some striking common features.2 Take, for example, the following definitions in the German Brockhaus Enzyklopädie and in the British Oxford English Dictionary. The Brockhaus runs as follows:
Mysticism [the original Greek myeomai translates as “to be initiated,” literally “to have one’s eyes and mouth closed”], a structural form of religious experience and life in which the unio mystica – an intrinsically experienced unification (Einung) of the human self with the divine reality – is achieved.3
1 See, e. g., Philip Alexander, “Response,” in Peter Schäfer and Joseph Dan, eds., Gershom Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism: 50 Years After (Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr [Paul Siebeck], 1993), p. 82; Marvin W. Meyer and Richard Smith, eds., Ancient Christian Magic: Coptic Texts of Ritual Power (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1994), pp. 4 ff. On the problems resulting from such an approach, see Henk S. Versnel, “Some Reflections on the Relationship Magic-Religion,” Numen 37 (1991), pp. 177–197, and Yuval Harari’s recent attempt to go beyond a pragmatic use of the category “magic” (see his “What Is a Magical Text? Methodological Reflections Aimed at Redefining Early Jewish Magic,” in Shaul Shaked, ed., Officina magica: Essays on the Practice of Magic in Antiquity [Leiden: Brill, 2005], pp. 91–124). Using the notion of “family resemblance” and resorting to the “partial resemblance” of certain phenomena, he tries to avoid any essentialist or substantialist definition of “magic” (as opposed to “religion”). I wonder, however, how sentences such as “The density of the web of partial resemblance ties is what determines whether they are definitely [!] more or less magical or religious. … The web of partial resemblance creates a fabric, varying in its density, in which religious and magic phenomena [!] are tied together” (ibid., p. 115) avoid relapsing into the essentialist mode. 2 It is by no means my goal here to attempt an even approximate account of the major definitions suggested by historians of religion; I merely give some examples that I find instructive. For further information, see, e. g., the “classic” contributions by William James, The Varieties of Religious Experience: A Study in Human Nature (London: Longman, Green), 1902 (esp. pp. 366 ff.); Evelyn Underhill, Mysticism: A Study in the Nature and Development of Man’s Spiritual Consciousness, 12th ed. (London: Methuen, 1930, repr. 1967 [first published 1911]); Rufus M. Jones, Studies in Mystical Religion (London: Macmillan, 1909, repr. 1923); idem, New Studies in Mystical Religion (London: Macmillan, 1927); Emily Herman, The Meaning and Value of Mysticism (London: Clark, 1922); Louis Dupré, “Mysticism,” in Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 10 (London: Collier Macmillan, 1987), pp. 245–261. 3 Brockhaus Enzyklopädie in Zwanzig Bänden, vol. 13 (Wiesbaden: F. A. Brockhaus, 1971), p. 141. The German version reads: “Mystik [zu grch. myeomai ‘eingeweiht werden’; eigentl. ‘sich Augen und Mund schließen lassen’], eine Strukturform relig. Erlebens und Lebens, in der die unio mystica – die wesenhaft erfahrene Einung des menschl. Selbst mit der göttl. Wirklichkeit – erreicht wird.”

Copyrighted Material



This definition limns mysticism as an essential structure of religious life in which the unio mystica is attained, the unification of the human self with divine reality; that is, mysticism is a particular variety of religion having as its most prominent characteristic the unio mystica.4 The Oxford English Dictionary is more comprehensive but likewise emphasizes the mystical union of man and God. Here, the term “mysticism” captures
[t]he opinions, mental tendencies, or habits of thought and feeling, characteristic of mystics; mystical doctrines or spirit; belief in the possibility of union with the Divine nature by means of ecstatic contemplation; reliance on spiritual intuition or exalted feeling as the means of acquiring knowledge of mysteries inaccessible to intellectual apprehension.5

The first sentence is not very helpful because the “opinions” and so forth of “mystics” or “mystical doctrines or spirit” only shift the problem from “mysticism” to “mystics” or “mystical”: what then, pray tell, are “mystics,” and what is “mystical”? Then comes the major characteristic, the “union with the Divine nature,” obviously avoiding the word “God” and preferring instead the vague “Divine nature” and adding some important qualifications: ecstatic contemplation, exalted feeling, acquiring knowledge of mysteries as opposed to intellectual apprehension. “Ecstasy,” “feeling,” and “knowledge” are characteristics that play an important part in most definitions of mysticism. But it cannot be stressed enough: the ultimate goal according to this definition is the union of man with God. Some scholars even go so far as to boldly proclaim, “That we bear the image of God is the starting-point, one might almost say the postulate, of all Mysticism. The complete union of the soul with God is the goal of all Mysticism.”6 There is, however, one problem with this definition. Whether or not it fits a religion such as Judaism we will see, but what about religions that do not presuppose the existence of a transcendent God and the human soul, that is, religions
4 Interestingly enough, this definition has become much less assertive – and loses the unio mystica – in the more recent nineteenth Brockhaus edition of 1991 (vol. 15, p. 268): “Mysticism [the original Latin mysticus translates as “mysterious,” from the Greek mystikós], … a multilevel phenomenon that is difficult to pin down and which in its various cultural manifestations is common to all religions. Mysticism designates the direct experience of a divine reality that transcends everyday consciousness and rational perception.” 5 The Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd ed., prepared by J. A. Simpson and E. S. C. Weiner, vol. 10 (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989), p. 176. 6 William Ralph Inge, Christian Mysticism: Considered in Eight Lectures Delivered before the University of Oxford (London: Methuen, 1899, Appendix A), p. 339 (my emphasis in italics). Scholem refers to this appendix in his Major Trends (below, n. 10), p. 4, without giving the precise bibliographical details. Unfortunately, the appendix has disappeared in later editions of Inge’s book, and one frustrated reader added (on p. 333 of the 1956 edition) the handwritten note, “What [expletive] happened to the famous Appendix?” On the concept of the mystical union in general, see Ileana Marcoulesco, “Mystical Union,” in Mircea Eliade, ed., The Encyclopedia of Religion, vol. 10 (London: Collier Macmillan, 1987), pp. 239–245.

G. Bracey and Richenda C. This is the deepest depth. And I have felt A presence that disturbs me with the joyces Of elevated thoughts. and the mind of man – 7 Quoted in Rudolf Otto. New York]). thus interrupting the fatal cycle of reincarnation. suggest that the world and nature are illusions and that the deepest and truest “unity” is achieved when awareness of the self and its connection with the world is annihilated. Whose dwelling is the light of setting suns. A prominent example of a Christian mystic who expressed a pantheistic view of the oneness of nature and man’s unity with nature is Meister Eckhart (1260–before 1328): “All that a man has here externally in multiplicity is intrinsically One. 1957. Meister Eckeharts Rechtfertigungsschrift vom Jahre 1326: Einleitungen. wood and stone. a kind of “secular mysticism. but hearing oftentimes The still.” Other religious systems prefer the mystical experience of a unity or oneness with nature instead of God.”7 Here mysticism is not the union or rather unity with the Absolute. nor grating. Meridian Books. Bertha L.. 1932 [repr. See Otto Karrer and Herma Piesch. by William Wordsworth (1770– 1850). following the pantheistic idea that nature constitutes the Absolute behind and beyond all reality: God is everywhere and in everything. 61. . pp. This kind of mysticism is called “acosmic” or “world-negating. p.Copyrighted Material 4 Introduction that are not based on the Hebrew Bible with its notion of human beings “in the image and likeness of God”? Hindu and Buddhist mysticism. sad music of humanity. for example. though of ample power To chasten and subdue. God is part of this unity because he is part of nature and nature is a part of God. Übersetzung und Anmerkungen (Erfurt: Kurt Stenger. and in 1329 Pope John XXII declared some of Eckhart’s propositions heretical and others suspicious of heresy. “Édition Critique des Pièces Relatives au Procès d’Eckhart Contenues dans le Manuscrit 33b de la Bibliothèque de Soest. but the awareness of the inherent unity of all beings. And the blue sky. a notion that obviously challenges the concept of a personal God. Nor harsh. Théry. Payne (New York: Macmillan. 1927). trans. that celebrated representative of the “romantic revolt” in England: […] For I have learned To look on Nature not as in the hour Of thoughtless youth. 129–268. Mysticism East and West: A Comparative Analysis of the Nature of Mysticism. and the living air. let alone a personal God.” AHDL 1 (1926–1927). a sense sublime Of something far more deeply interfused. And the round ocean.8 An outstanding example of mystical union with nature.” is the famous poem Tintern Abbey. The idea of a personal God as the goal of the mystic has become so remote that Meister Eckhart was suspected of being a pantheist and heretic. 8 The archbishop of Cologne accused him of heresy. denying the essential difference between God and his creation. eds. all things are One. Here all blades of grass.

As my two prime examples I have chosen Gershom Scholem. n. is guided by the biblical verse Psalms 34:9: “Oh taste and see that the Lord is good. all objects of all thought. 2. 1921). with a critical introduction and notes by Jonathan Wordsworth (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 11 See above.” in The Pedlar. The Two-Part Prelude. intense and living stage. 89–103. p. on direct and intimate consciousness of the Divine Presence. ed.13 The latter in particular. 10 Gershom Scholem.9 In view of these difficulties – not only of those emerging from Eastern religions – modern scholars tend to suggest more nuanced definitions of mysticism. 13 Scholem quotes Aquinas according to Engelbert Krebs. Studies in Mystical Religion. which bears the optimistic title “General Characteristics of Jewish Mysticism. l. art. according to Aquinas. Apparently Scholem did not bother to check the original context of the quotation from Thomas. It is through the latter knowledge that a human being “experiences in himself the taste of God’s sweetness (gustum divinae dulcedinis) and complacency in God’s will (complacentiam divinae voluntatis). In the introductory chapter of his Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (first published in 1941). the eminent expert on Christian mysticism.”12 Then Scholem moves back to what he calls Thomas Aquinas’s brief definition of mysticism as cognitio Dei experimentalis – a knowledge of God through experience. And rolls through all things. . 1974 [repr.]). In quoting Aquinas. “Tintern Abbey. Grundfragen der kirchlichen Mystik dogmatisch erörtert und für das Leben gewertet (Freiburg: Herder.Copyrighted Material Introduction 5 A motion and a spirit that impels All thinking things. quaestio 97.. and if so.” The tasting and seeing of God is what “the genuine mystic desires … determined by the fundamental ex- 9 William Wordsworth. 2) it belongs to the question as to whether or not it is a sin to tempt God. 12 Jones. 3. p. He begins by praising “the brilliant books written on this subject by Evelyn Underhill11 and Dr.” Thomas distinguishes between two kinds of knowledge of God’s goodness (bonitas) or will (voluntas). XV (Jones’s emphasis). Krebs focuses solely on the experience of God’s goodness or sweetness and completely suppresses the connection with God’s will. he argues. In his refutation of the premise that “it is not a sin to tempt God. 2 arg. one speculative (speculativa) and the other affective or experiential (affectiva seu experimentalis). Tintern Abbey.2. and has nothing to do with mysticism. 37 f.” and it is only in this affective-experiential way that we are allowed. p. almost despairingly: “[W]hat is Jewish mysticism? What precisely is meant by this term? Is there such a thing. to prove God’s will and taste his sweetness. 1985). Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism (New York: Schocken. 37. It is religion in its most acute. the founding father of the academic discipline of Jewish mysticism. what distinguishes it from other kinds of mystical experience?”10 To answer this question he first summarizes what we know about mysticism in general. Rufus Jones” and by quoting Jones’s definition of mysticism in his Studies in Mystical Religion: “I shall use the word mysticism to express the type of religion which puts the emphasis on immediate awareness of relation with God. and Bernard McGinn. pp.” Scholem asks. because there (Summa theologiae II.

that is to say. 191).”15 He briefly refers to the very different experiences of what he labels the earliest Jewish mystics of talmudic times (in his terminology. Major Trends. 5. p. have by no means represented the essence of their ecstatic experience. Jews as well as non-Jews. involves a direct and intimate consciousness of the divine Presence that.”17 Definitions. Islamic. however. “is this – that there is no such thing as mysticism in the abstract. Finally. and concludes: “And yet it is the same experience which both are trying to express in different ways. Major Trends. Scholem set up no such ideal but stated explicitly and unequivocally that the term unio mystica “has no particular significance” for many mystics. although within certain strands of mysticism we do find mystical union and ecstasy – the two most cherished elements of many modern definitions of at least Jewish. “has no particular significance” in mysticism in general and in Jewish mysticism in particular: “Numerous mystics. there is only the mysticism of a particular religious system. There is no mysticism as such. p. according to Scholem.. 5 f. Christian.” So. in Scholem’s view. Ibid.. This term. prove to be futile. 4. Mysticism. “Jews as well as non-Jews. It is therefore simply wrong to maintain. as an historical phenomenon. as Elliot Wolfson does. the Hasidim of Eastern Europe.”16 The second rather useless presupposition. and Islamic mysticism – they are useless as parameters in defining both mysticism and Jewish mysticism alike. the tremendous uprush and soaring of the soul to its highest plane. he posits. in rejecting two of their major presuppositions.Copyrighted Material 6 Introduction perience of the inner self which enters into immediate contact with God or the metaphysical Reality. 15 14 . 17 Ibid. Jewish Mysticism and so on. that “the mystical experience. which lies at its root. the mystical union of the individual with God.” JQR 85 [1994]. p. What remains is mysticism as a historical phenomenon. in the most extreme cases. pp.”14 Both definitions serve Scholem. there is still yet another danger lurking in the alltoo-sweeping definitions of mysticism: they confuse religion with mysticism and Scholem. comprises much more than this experience. Christian. a phenomenon or experience which has no particular relation to other religious phenomena.” Scholem concludes. eventuates in union with God” and that “from Scholem’s own standpoint the vast majority of Jewish mystical sources fall somewhat short of the ideal that he himself set up. The first is the notion of unio mystica. “Mysticism and the Poetic-Liturgical Compositions from Qumran: A Response to Bilhah Nitzan. to be described and analyzed within the framework of other religious phenomena and in different and changing historical contexts: “The point I should like to make. 5. in the end.” 16 Scholem. is the assumption that “the whole of what we call mysticism is identical with that personal experience which is realized in the state of ecstasy or ecstatic meditation. the “old Jewish Gnostics”) and the latest offshoot of Jewish mysticism. as a union with God. which involves unitive experience” (Elliot Wolfson. according to Scholem. p.

never becoming independent of religion. not “mysticism”. W. The goal of the mystic (whatever this is) shall not and cannot be isolated from the life of the individual. Die Geburt der Tragödie aus dem Geiste der Musik (Leipzig: E.18 Instead he favors an evolutionary model of religion in three stages. pp. (my emphasis). Islam. revelation. the direct contact between the individual and God. a form and period of religion.”22 If we now turn to McGinn’s definition of mysticism. 21 Scholem. and redemption) “are given new and different meanings reflecting the characteristic feature of mystical experience. vol. Mysticism is always a part or element of religion.. that is. All mystics believed in and practiced a religion (Christianity. The second stage may be called the classical stage in the history of a religion. The first stage is that of a naïve harmony between man.20 it is the birth of mysticism out of the spirit of the institutionalized and classical form of religion. 1992).21 At this stage. Yet it is at this stage – “more widely removed than any other period from mysticism and all that it implies”19 – that mysticism is born. but also points of agreement with other. 7. XI ff. Borrowing a turn of phrase from Nietzsche. 6 f. and this relationship between individual and community also needs to be determined in any proper evaluation of the individual’s mysticism. of which only the third and last stage witnesses the birth of mysticism. in particular “consciousness” and “presIbid. 23 Bernard McGinn. mysticism is a subset of religion. 7. moreover. Mysticism is a process or way of life. Fritzsch. Hinduism). 2. more general definitions that Scholem ultimately rejects. we discover a number of important points of agreement with Scholem. Ibid. pp. all religious concepts (above all the ideas of creation. 9. p. that may be labeled romantic. 1872). He is very careful in his choice of words. The Foundations of Mysticism. p. Mysticism is an attempt to express a direct or immediate consciousness of the presence of God. Major Trends. 3. The individual is part of a community.. McGinn aims at a broad and flexible definition of mysticism and discusses it under three headings in the “General Introduction” to his monumental The Foundations of Mysticism:23 1. 19 18 . part of a wider historical whole. and God and where there is no need for ecstatic meditation.. in which religion becomes institutionalized and is characterized by a vast abyss between God and man. universe. p. 22 Ibid. it remains inseparable from the larger whole. Even when it reaches a level of explicit formulation and awareness.Copyrighted Material Introduction 7 conclude that “all religion in the last resort is based on mysticism. 20 Friedrich Nietzsche. 1: The Presence of God: A History of Western Christian Mysticism (London: SCM Press. Judaism.” a mistake for which he quotes Rufus Jones’s definition as a prime example that he does not want to repeat. This is the most important part of McGinn’s definition.

2006]. XVII f. but few have restricted themselves to it.Copyrighted Material 8 Introduction ence. metaphors. rapture. ecstasy. p. the special and heightened consciousness involving both loving and knowing that is given in the mystical meeting. pp. McGinn suggests expanding the notion of union and finds the term “presence” a more central and more useful category for grasping the unifying note in the varieties of Christian mysticism. All of these can be conceived of as different but complementary ways of presenting the consciousness of direct presence. Ibid. 25 24 . even perhaps radical obedience to the present divine will. Many have used it. “la mystique”) in the seventeenth century. deification. XVI. or symbols that mystics have employed in their accounts. Among the other major mystical categories are those of contemplation and the vision of God. locutions.” “Presence” is a deliberate substitute for “union. emphasizing rather the new level of awareness.” a word that he finds imprecise and ambiguous: The term mystical experience. Clark International. it comes as no surprise that union is only one of the hosts of models. p. and (3) mysticism always requires a via mystica.25 The other term in the third part of his definition.” is a deliberate substitute for “experience.. 26 Ibid. understandings of union with God. Alexander suggests that the following three characteristics are shared by most concrete mystical traditions (Mystical Texts: Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and Related Manuscripts [London: T. perhaps even many.. “consciousness.24 Because “union” might not be the most suitable category for an understanding of mysticism and because there were several. … From this perspective. the birth of the Word in the soul. 8): (1) mysticism arises from the religious experience of a transcendent divine presence. XVII. and the like – which admittedly have played a large part in mysticism but which many mystics have insisted do not constitute the essence of the encounter with God. consciously or unconsciously. a Jewish studies scholar. the recent definition of mysticism by Philip Alexander. 27 Interestingly enough. Also (2) would certainly find Scholem’s approval (although he does not dwell on this particular aspect when discussing the problem of defiIbid. comes very close to that of McGinn. also tends to place emphasis on special altered states – visions. Many of the greatest Christian mystics […] have been downright hostile to such experiences.26 From these quotations we can easily see that McGinn and Scholem27 agree most with regard to what is summarized under (1): mysticism as part of a concrete historical religion.” a word that McGinn finds rather problematic: If we define mysticism in this sense [as some form of union with God]. p. there are actually so few mystics in the history of Christianity that one wonders why Christians used the qualifier “mystical” so often (from the late second century on) and eventually created the term “mysticism” (first in French.. (2) the mystic enters a close relationship with this divine presence that can be described in theistic systems as “communion” and in pantheistic systems as “union”. & T.

the chapter dealing with Merkavah mysticism (the first full-fledged system of Jewish mysticism). with many variations.Copyrighted Material Introduction 9 nition).” and it will be useful to continue with Scholem and to see how he delineates the former within the framework of the latter. For this comes surprisingly close to Jones’s definition (“direct and intimate consciousness of the Divine Presence”). For a useful overview. Jewish mysticism begins with the talmudic period and continues. p. 18: The uninterrupted mystical chain leads from the talmudic hero Rabbi Aqiva to the “late Rabbi Abraham Isaac Kook. 2002). in particular whether it can or cannot be subsumed under the category of “mystical union. that is.” 29 28 . the religious leader of the Jewish community in Palestine and a splendid type of Jewish mystic.” But Scholem has made things a bit too easy for himself by failing to suggest an alternative and instead contenting himself with the emphatic statement: “I.29 1. The main bone of contention seems to be the nature of that “fundamental experience” encountered by the mystic in his relationship with the divine. Alexander. p. Major Trends. for one. according to Scholem.”30 In the second chapter of Major Trends. this is more complicated. At least this is what he asserts in his introductory chapter.” Before we go into such detail. 7. see Philip S. as a historical manifestation within the larger context of the Jewish religion. The Oxford Handbook of Jewish Studies (Oxford: Oxford University Press. Phases of Jewish Mysticism Since.”28 Jewish Mysticism “Jewish mysticism” is obviously a subset of “mysticism. however. Scholem and McGinn share the reluctance of granting the notions of unio mystica and personal experience too much sway in any definition of mysticism. “General Characteristics of Jewish Mysticism. he is more generous and grants the first phase of Jewish mysticism Scholem. ed..” in Martin Goodman. it is necessary to examine first how Scholem (and his successors) define and describe Jewish mysticism historically. which Scholem rejects as too general because it blurs the distinction between “religion” and “mysticism. Major Trends. mysticism arises out of the classical stage of a given religion. As for (3). do not intend to employ a terminology [such as used by Jones] which obscures the very real differences [between “religion” and “mysticism”] that are recognized by all. the consciousness of direct divine presence. “Mysticism. up to the present day. but I do not think that Scholem would approve of McGinn’s substitute. pp. 30 Scholem. it will come as no surprise that for him. and thereby makes it even more difficult to get at the root of the problem. however. 705–732.

1962. there are several phases of Jewish mysticism that are bound together by the term “mysticism. . p. Scholem distinguishes between “Jewish mysticism” and “Kabbalah”: Jewish mysticism begins in antiquity. Zwi Werblowsky. he remains remarkably vague with regard to the beginning of the first phase. that form of Jewish mysticism and theosophy that appears to have emerged suddenly in the thirteenth century.31 He opens this chapter with the programmatic statement: The first phase in the development of Jewish mysticism before its crystallization in the mediaeval Kabbalah is also the longest. 33 Berlin: Walter de Gruyter.. he is reluctant to put it into its full historical context. Merkavah mysticism. R. ed. 34 The first sentence of the first chapter reads: “The question of the origin and early stages of the Kabbalah. J. Although he has declared that the first phase. Second. and some of its important records have survived. to the tenth A. English translation Origins of the Kabbalah. thus clearly predating the talmudic period. and most important for our purpose.Copyrighted Material 10 Introduction its beginnings in the first century bce. When in 1962 he published a book in German titled Ursprung und Anfänge der Kabbala. as we will soon discover in greater detail. but it is certainly part of the “institutionalized” form of the Jewish religion – the other characteristic of Scholem’s definition of the “romantic period” out of which Jewish mysticism emerged. This is clear enough and can hardly be contested. p. Its literary remains are traceable over a period of almost a thousand years. At least we get the additional information here that the Kabbalah would appear to have emerged “suddenly” out of the common ground of Jewish mysticism. the boundaries in both directions (forward and backward in time) of the first phase of Jewish mysticism are less obvious. 31 Whether the first century bce belongs to the “classical” period of Judaism is another issue. from the first century B. is indisputably one of the most difficult in the history of the Jewish religion after the destruction of the Second Temple” (Origins. that peculiar mystical movement that. but it somehow “crystallizes” in what is called “Kabbalah” in the Middle Ages. D. Major Trends.”34 Third. Whereas Scholem’s strategy for extending the first phase into the tenth century is clearly an attempt to narrow the gap between his first and second phases. but Scholem does not bother to explain why the manifestation of mysticism before the Kabbalah is just “mysticism” and mysticism’s medieval strand “Kabbalah” proper – yet he nevertheless calls his book Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism.32 Here we learn in two sentences many important (and some problematic) things. revolves around the divine throne in heaven. Princeton.33 he took for granted that distinction between “Jewish mysticism” and “Kabbalah.” he states at the outset.” The first of these phases is Merkavah mysticism. First. 40. C. “It is not my intention here. 32 Scholem. Merkavah mysticism and Hasidism in medieval Germany (approximately 1150–1250 ce). begins in the first century bce. Allan Arkush (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society. NJ: Princeton University Press. “Kabbalah” seems to be the epitome of Jewish mysticism. 3). 1987). trans.

Christentum und Islam / Mystical Approaches to God: Judaism. Nor am I going to deal with the many pseudepigraphic and apocalyptic works such as the Ethiopic book of Enoch and the Fourth Book of Ezra. Ibid. Christianity. Scholem is convinced that “subterranean but effective.Copyrighted Material Introduction 11 to follow the movement [of Merkavah mysticism] through its various stages.”37 So he ultimately (and boldly) concludes that we can actually delineate three stages of Merkavah mysticism. best represented by the book of Enoch. On Scholem’s approach. connections exist between these later [Merkavah] mystics and the groups which produced a large proportion of the pseudepigrapha and apocalypses of the first century before and after Christ”36 and that “the main subjects of the later Merkabah mysticism already occupy a central position in this oldest esoteric literature. Their influence on the subsequent development of Jewish mysticism cannot be overlooked. “the Merkabah speculation of the mishnaic teachers who are known to us by name”.” in Peter Schäfer. pp. “Merkavah Mysticism since Scholem: Rachel Elior’s The Three Temples. and Islam (Munich: Oldenbourg. 36 35 . 38 Ibid.35 Despite this restrained attitude toward the earlier manifestations of Jewish mysticism before the appearance of Merkavah mysticism in the technical sense of the term.. and 3. 19–22. p. … I do not. 37 Ibid. 43. that first phase of Jewish mysticism. Ishmael and R. 2006).. “the anonymous conventicles of the old apocalyptics”. from its early beginnings in the period of the Second Temple to its gradual decline and disappearance. Major Trends. and became ever more so in his later writings.”38 Unfortunately. as reflected in the literature which has come down to us [Hekhalot literature]. p. his chapter on Merkavah mysticism drawing solely on the Hekhalot literature (although he was convinced. fascinating though the subject be. “the merkabah mysticism of late and post-Talmudic times. Wege Mystischer Gotteserfahrung: Judentum. and occasionally still traceable. ed. intend to give much space to hypotheses concerning the origins of Jewish mysticism and its relation to Graeco-Oriental syncretism. that the heroes of Hekhalot literature – most prominent among them R. therefore. Scholem not only eschews any substantial treatment of the “apocalyptic stage” of Merkavah mysticism – let alone that he does not make an attempt to prove the historical connection between the alleged Merkavah speculations of the “old apocalyptics” and the Mishnah teachers of rabbinic Judaism or the Merkavah mystics presented in the Hekhalot literature – in his description he leaves his second stage almost completely out. 42. Aqiva – were identical Scholem. see also the very useful summary by Martha Himmelfarb.. namely 1. 2. which undoubtedly contain elements of Jewish mystical religion. p. 40. but in the main I shall confine myself to the analysis of writings to which little attention has hitherto been given in the literature on Jewish religious history.

Mohr [Paul Siebeck]. GA: Society of Biblical Literature. not only of ignoring the earlier phases but even of blocking access to them: Despite the significant advance that the investigations of Schäfer. pp. Paradise Now: Essays on Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism (Atlanta. pp. were responsible for the shift in modern research from the apocalypses to the Hekhalot literature. Whereas the second gap (the “rabbinic stage” of Merkavah mysticism) was effectively eliminated by David Halperin in his thorough analyses of the rabbinic Merkavah texts40 – although. 2006). their works. an unbroken continuity between the early apocalypses and the Hekhalot literature. The Enoch-Metatron Tradition (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. 42 Ithamar Gruenwald. Elliot R. This result is highly unsatisfactory. other scholars are still convinced of a close relationship between the Merkavah speculations of the rabbis and the Merkavah mysticism of the Hekhalot literature41 – the first gap (the “apocalyptic stage” of Merkavah mysticism.42 but Martha Himmelfarb cautioned against too naïve an approach with regard to these two after all very different bodies of literature. Orlov. 2005). Through a Speculum That Shines: Vision and Imagination in Medieval Jewish Mysticism (Princeton. along the lines of Scholem’s taxonomy. April D. to be sure.. 40 39 . e.. me. pp. in our predilection for the rabbinic and Merkavah mystical manifestations of early Jewish mysticism. B..44 He accuses Halperin. 1980). as Scholem defines it. 121 ff. Halperin. and other opponents of Scholem’s position brought to a better understanding of the conceptual world of the rabbinic and Hekhalot mystical developments. Andrei Orlov. Ithamar Gruenwald wanted to establish. NJ: Princeton University Press. “What Is Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism?” in eadem.43 Most recently. pp. The Merkabah in Rabbinic Literature (New Haven. 42 f. 1994). in my judg- Scholem. C. 41 See. 1988). g. which. and scholars after Scholem have tried to fill the gaps. p. he holds. Wolfson. Apocalyptic and Merkavah Mysticism (Leiden: Brill. 43 Martha Himmelfarb. 73–100. focusing on the Enoch-Metatron traditions. and the relationship between the apocalypses and Hekhalot literature) was perceived more constructively and filled in with ever more details.” HUCA 59 (1988). Major Trends. ed.39 So all that in fact remains of Scholem’s three stages of the first phase is just the third and last stage. 3 f. DeConick.Copyrighted Material 12 Introduction with the famous rabbis as we know them from the rabbinic literature). 1980). see also his The Faces of the Chariot: Early Jewish Responses to Ezekiel’s Vision (Tübingen: J. 3: Scholem’s inability to demonstrate textually the persistent presence of the matrix of early Jewish mysticism in the pseudepigraphic literature would later lead his critics to concentrate their studies mainly either on the rabbinic ma‘aseh merkavah accounts or on the Hekhalot writings and to regard these literary evidences as the first systematic presentations of early Jewish mysticism. 44 Andrei A. “Heavenly Ascent and the Relationship of the Apocalypses and the Hekhalot Literature. CT: American Oriental Society. reopened the question and tried to resuscitate Scholem’s approach despite its acknowledged shortcomings. and others of throwing out the baby with the bathwater and. (despite his somewhat twisted reservations there).

Davila. The view that the Hekhalot tradition possesses its own set(s) of concepts and imagery. It is apparent that. “a genetic relationship of some sort [!] between the descenders to the chariot and the ancient Enochic traditions and practitioners seems likely” (p. for one. different from the conceptualities of the early apocalyptic mystical testimonies. the body of Hekhalot literature cannot serve as the ultimate yardstick for measuring all early Jewish mystical traditions. a historical link [between the earlier Enoch traditions and Enoch-Metatron in the Hekhalot literature] does seem plausible” (p. See also James R.45 Much as I agree with Orlov’s last sentence. should not however lead one to ignore the association of these texts with early Jewish mysticism. affected negatively the study of the premishnaic Jewish mystical testimonies. Although he acknowledges the very late social context for the “descenders to the chariot” (namely. No doubt. pp.Copyrighted Material Introduction 13 ment. it soon became clear that the gap in Scholem’s presentation of the three stages of Merkavah mysticism was even larger than Scholem could have known when he wrote his Major Trends: still undiscovered were the Dead Sea Scrolls. Paradise Now.46 but I do not think that this has much to do with Scholem’s failure to make a good case for his first stage of the first phase of Jewish mysticism. despite its importance. he nevertheless believes that “at least in the case of the Enochic literature. Boustan. 105–125. research on the Hekhalot literature and Merkavah mysticism has made some progress over the last twenty-five years or so. The main focus of research has been transferred from pseudepigraphic evidence to the rabbinic ma‘aseh merkavah and the Hekhalot writings in an attempt to show their conceptual independence from the early apocalyptic materials. did not embark on a study of the Hekhalot literature in order to prove Scholem wrong and to demonstrate that the concepts and imagery of the Hekhalot traditions were distinct from those of the apocalypses (when I started my work on the Hekhalot manuscripts I couldn’t have cared less about the apocalyptic literature).. as scholars immediately observed. which contain a number of texts – in particular the Hodayot (Thanksgiving Scroll) and the text that is now labeled Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice – that. Moreover. Davila concludes that in his view. 130–160. Although he later became aware 45 Ibid.” in DeConick. I am at a loss with regard to his main critique. 123). . and even more important. The criticisms of Scholem’s hypothesis have led to the refocusing of priorities in the study of early Jewish mysticism. pp. “Babylonia in the fifth to the seventh centuries ce”). bear a striking resemblance to the Hekhalot literature. pp. “The Ancient Jewish Apocalypses and the Hekhalot Literature. True. publication of the Synopse zur Hekhalot-Literatur has triggered an avalanche of publications on Merkavah mysticism. 124). “The Study of Heikhalot Literature: Between Mystical Experience and Textual Artifact. 46 A very useful summary of the present state of scholarship can be found in Ra‘anan S. 5 f. but I. Their writings shifted the whole notion of early Jewish mysticism towards the rabbinic and Hekhalot documents and separated it from the early mystical evidence of Second Temple Judaism.” CBR 6 (2007).

Jerusalem]). she reconstructs three stages of early Jewish mysticism. 22): the editio princeps of all the fragments of the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice appeared in 1985. 1999). the publication of which coincided with publication of the Hebrew edition of Elior’s book. and Talmudic Tradition (New York: Jewish Theological Seminary. pp.Copyrighted Material 14 Introduction of these connections. 128. 29. 1965). including the Dead Sea Scrolls and related literature. has been made by Rachel Elior. All the Glory of Adam: Liturgical Anthropology in the Dead Sea Scrolls (Leiden: Brill. Fletcher-Louis. 2004 [originally published in Hebrew.48 Conspicuously. Merkabah Mysticism. The Three Temples: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism. in particular. 2.” in Aharon Oppenheimer. “Merkavah Mysticism since Scholem.. pp. 1960. In a series of articles and in her book. The most ambitious attempt not only to fill the gaps in Scholem’s taxonomy of early Jewish mysticism but also to give a comprehensive picture of Scholem’s first phase. 1. 217–267. pp. Wege mystischer Gotteserfahrung. Sino-Judaica: Jews and Chinese in Historical Dialogue (Tel Aviv: Tel Aviv University. 2002). to be sure. And see already Crispin H. Of the many articles (which often give a preview of what is said in the book or summarize the book’s results) I mention only “From Earthly Temple to Heavenly Shrines: Prayer and Sacred Song in the Hekhalot Literature and Its Relation to Temple Traditions. 252 ff.” in Schäfer. ed.50 It is hardly my intention here to give a full summary of her arguments – a difficult task. 128. For a thorough analysis of her work and a devastating critique of most of her major theses. T.47 Scholem never took up the subject systematically.” . 1–18. “The Merkavah Tradition and the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism: From Temple to Merkavah.49 Elior programmatically claims to have taken up the legacy left by Scholem in his few remarks. but these stages are different from Scholem’s. namely (1) Ezekiel’s vision of the Merkavah in Ezek.” p. Like Scholem. Elior does not just deal with the Qumran literature (both the sectarian and nonsectarian works preserved in the Qumran library) but sees much of the Qumranic and related literature (including. that refers to the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. 3 f. pp. Magnes. 50 In “Foundations. and “The Foundations of Early Jewish Mysticism: The Lost Calendar and the Transformed Heavenly Chariot. not only because of the richness of the material but also because she often repeats and sometimes even contradicts herself – but the following observations seem to me important:51 1. thanks in large part to the publication of most of the Qumran library and our greater knowledge of the context of the writings preserved in this library. 2002. 51 I refrain from giving full references in each case. 48 Not surprisingly. The Three Temples: On the Emergence of Jewish Mysticism (Oxford: Littman Library of Jewish Civilization. (2) the literature of the “deposed priests” of the Sec47 Gershom Scholem. the Enochic literature) as the reservoir from which the full picture of pre-Hekhalot mysticism emerges. pp.. three years after Scholem’s death. it is this gap (the Dead Sea Scrolls) within the first gap (prerabbinic apocalyptic literature) that has occupied scholars far more as a potential precursor of Merkavah mysticism than have the apocalypses. p.. from Priestly Opposition to Gazing upon the Merkavah. 101–158. from Hekhal to Hekhalot. 2. Jewish Gnosticism. see Himmelfarb. 49 Rachel Elior. as Himmelfarb reminds us (“Merkavah Mysticism since Scholem.” p. she explicitly connects herself with Scholem’s brief remark in Jewish Gnosticism.” JSQ 4 (1997).

17.”56 What she does not say in her brief definition but is clearly included is the presupposition that this “mysticism” constitutes itself in a peculiar relationship between the heavenly ritual of the angels and the ritual world of the earthly priests (priestly angels and angelic priests performing an angelic liturgy in a heavenly sanctuary that has replaced the destroyed or defiled Temple on earth). and we will see whether or not they are based on a fair picture of the evidence (however. that early Jewish mysticism developed out of the priestly traditions that were collected in the Temple library and preserved in Qumran. the chariot and the sevenfold angelic liturgy which were written before the Common Era. 54 Elior. whereas Scholem’s second stage (the rabbis) has disappeared in Elior.53 4. Elior is not particularly forthcoming with regard to how she defines “mysticism.” namely (1) “the traditions centered on Enoch and the priestly library that have commenced in angelic teaching of divine knowledge and concentrated on the priestly solar calendar. in line with her main thesis. the Qumran library in the fullest sense of the word. to say the least. also the Hekhalot literature). 55 Himmelfarb.” p. and (3) the Hekhalot literature. 52 Ezekiel does not serve as a separate stage in Scholem’s taxonomy (although his vision is clearly also for Scholem the starting point of everything that would come later in Jewish mysticism). as Himmelfarb has observed. 3.Copyrighted Material Introduction 15 ond Temple who were forced to leave the defiled sanctuary and took refuge in Qumran. I have serious doubts as to whether Scholem would have agreed with them). 56 Elior. “a definition is implicit in her work and could be extracted with proper care. Elior’s taxonomy of early Jewish mysticism and her definition of this “mysticism” are quite surprising. 23.)..” This second chapter.” p. 53 In “Foundations.”55 In her 2006 article she gives the following definition: “Mysticism in the present context refers to literary traditions which assume the everlasting existence of transcendental heavenly counterparts of the ritual world of the Temple and the Levitical priesthood. Scholem’s first stage and Elior’s second stage correspond (with the omission of Qumran in Scholem). that is. “reflects the dialectical continuity with its priestly sources” (ibid. The Qumran library is not (or at least only to a certain degree) the library of the Qumran sectarians but “originated in the Temple library that was created and guarded for centuries by priests and prophets and was taken by the deposited priests when they were forced to leave the defiled sanctuary.”54 5. written after the destruction of the Temple and incorporating similar topics. “Foundations. as she explicitly states. she reduces the schema to just “two chapters of Jewish Mysticism in late antiquity.” pp.” and (2) “the Heikhalot and Merkabah literature. .” p. “Merkavah Mysticism since Scholem. “Foundations. Yet this is precisely the question that looms large with her schema and definition.” although. All these three stages are characterized by three absent Temples (hence the title of her book) and all the three literatures preserved in these three stages are the product of priestly circles (yes.52 3. But they are. as do both their third stages. the angels. of course. 17 f.

36. p. who. as he later concludes. according to Elior.57 Obviously. Scholem is much more sophisticated with regard to the prerabbinic stage of the first phase of Jewish mysticism. p. categorically declares:60 There was mysticism at Qumran. to put it differently. . This mysticism was the historical forerunner of later Jewish Heikhalot mysticism. also of Christian mysticism: “These comments … are surely sufficient to make at least a prima facie case that Qumran mysticism belongs somewhere in the genealogy of Christian as well as of Jewish mysticism” (Mystical Texts. Alexander is convinced that this “new” attempt to “trace Jewish mysticism firmly back to Second Temple times” contradicts the paradigm established by Scholem. there is no early Jewish mysticism outside the realm of priestly ideology. without explicitly mentioning Elior but instead emphasizing the connections with the earlier works of Johann Maier and Ithamar Gruenwald. VII (Alexander’s emphasis). see also p. “Merkavah Mysticism since Scholem. “was reluctant to date the origins of Jewish mysticism much earlier than the third century ce.”63 I am not sure that this statement accurately reflects Scholem’s point of view. p. to be fair. 62 Alexander. at least in certain scholarly circles. in Alexander’s words. 64 Although. 61 And. 65 One needs much patience to fully understand and appreciate what Scholem says. This mysticism arose not at Qumran itself but in priestly circles in Jerusalem. 58 This claim becomes particularly difficult with regard to the Hekhalot literature because it presupposes that the bulk of this literature is of priestly origin – a very bold claim indeed. 60 Interestingly enough.64 since. all disenfranchised priestly ideology is “mystical. as we have observed.” that is.Copyrighted Material 16 Introduction for both are bought at the great cost of unabashedly or naively (or both) harmonizing the sources in order to extract from them a common priestly ideology. See the critique of Himmelfarb. having subjected the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice to a fresh examination. 34 ff. 63 Ibid.62 Furthermore. 143). 10 f. 24. pp. April DeConick in her essay “What Is Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism?” attests that Elior “has set forth the most comprehensive thesis that I am aware of” and approves of her premise that the priestly worldview or cosmology indeed informs the mystical discussions within early Judaism and Christianity.. and quite in contrast to Elior. Philip Alexander. Alexander is acutely aware of the fact that Scholem effectively ignored the earlier antecedents and increasingly concentrated on mysticism in a rabbinic milieu. Paradise Now. of developing his argument in a dialectical process rather than in linear progression. see her “Merkavah Mysticism since Scholem.65 We 57 This is also one of Himmelfarb’s main points. 137. “What Is Early Jewish and Christian Mysticism?” in eadem. 59 April D.” pp. from where it was taken to Qumran and adapted to the community’s particular needs. and should now be integrated into the history of Jewish61 mysticism. Mystical Texts. not least because he is a master of the art of “give and take.” pp.59 Most recently. 136.” Elior’s sweeping pan-priestly approach has been met with much interest and approval. DeConick.58 or. as I have argued above as well.

68 Idel.” in Aleida and Jan Assmann. C. is regarded as the backbone of most definitions of mysticism (that is. mystical par excellence. Moshe Idel. the mystical union of the adept with the divine. . and indeed aiming at the union with God. theocentric. individualistic.66 Unfortunately for Idel. scholars have quarreled over its application to Jewish mysticism. Vision und unio mystica in der frühen jüdischen Mystik. 101 ff. the Jewish mystic almost invariably retains a sense of the distance between the Creator and His creature” (Major Trends. whereas to the latter he deigns to grant the attributes anthropocentric.. eds. 117–143. 2. idem. pp. 67 Idel. exoterically open to all Jews. pp. vol. sublime. see also Peter Schäfer. “Ekstase. Idel distinguishes between two major strands in Jewish mysticism. 133 ff. in religions envisioning a personal God). sefirotic (that is. “The Contribution of Abraham Abulafia’s Kabbalah. B.Copyrighted Material Introduction 17 will see whether or not our analysis of the Qumran sources – in particular the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice and the Self-Glorification Hymn – supports the thesis of Qumran as the primary source feeding early Jewish mysticism. this negation in Jewish mysticism of the unio 66 Moshe Idel. suppressing in his vast research that particular strand of Jewish mysticism of which the mystical union is characteristic. Gershom Scholem’s Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism: 50 Years After (Tübingen: J. XI ff. On Idel’s problematic taxonomy. Kabbalah: New Perspectives. 59.68 Ultimately. 1993). esoteric. 1998). one of the most fervent critics of Scholem. Kabbalah: New Perspectives. Even in this ecstatic frame of mind. should not be called mysticism at all. p. symbolic. eds.. Kabbalah: New Perspectives (New Haven. Idel holds. anomian. Unio mystica Since the unio mystica. the theosophical-theurgical and the ecstatic.” in Peter Schäfer and Joseph Dan. Idel does not refer to Scholem’s full discussion of the subject in the introductory chapter to Major Trends and in the chapter “Merkabah Mysticism and Jewish Gnosticism. intended to induce paranormal experiences. centered on the Halakhah). pp. since it is devoid of the essence of mysticism. Schleier und Schwelle: Archäologie der literarischen Kommunikation V. Scholem’s emphasis on the theosophical type of Jewish mysticism and his neglect of the ecstatic type has led some scholars to conclude that Jewish mysticism. Mohr [Paul Siebeck]. and since Scholem was reluctant to give special weight to this distinctive feature. 59 f. canonical. pp. Scholem’s verdict that “a total union with the Divine is absent in Jewish texts”67 has been accepted by most modern scholars of both Jewish as well as general mysticism. designing the system of the ten Sefirot. idem. 122 f.” pp. nomian (that is.” but quotes only the following sentence from his chapter on Abulafia: “It is only in extremely rare cases that ecstasy signifies actual union with God. and not interested in the union with God. if not deliberately. pp. in which the human individuality abandons itself to the rapture of complete submersion in the divine stream. The former he defines as mythic or mythocentric. “The Contribution of Abraham Abulafia’s Kabbalah to the Understanding of Jewish Mysticism. less mystical. the ten dynamic potencies within God).)... even goes so far as to accuse Scholem of implicitly. CT: Yale University Press. 2: Geheimnis und Offenbarung (Munich: Fink. 1988). Even worse.

as Professor Scholem has so admirably portrayed it. 1958). … would not appear to be mysticism at all. if not infinitely. pp. to precisely these pages in Idel’s Kabbalah: New Perspectives. we find remarkably little. the realization of a union or a unity with or in something that is enormously. 27. 49. 171. At Sundry Times: An Essay in the Comparison of Religions (London: Faber and Faber. See now also William Horbury. never to union. … [I]t is therefore in the very nature of the case that Jewish “mysticism” should at most aspire to communion with God. Although he includes Merkavah mysticism in the ecstatic strand (because for him it is by nature “ecstatic”). 71 Idel. n. and Merkavah . and Scholem would certainly not want to exclude Jewish mysticism from mysticism. In any case. Kabbalah: New Perspectives. Mystical Texts. when we look for his proofs of the notion of a mystical union in the early phase of Jewish mysticism (Merkavah mysticism). p. see also above. 59–73. p. it is anti-mystical. 70 Alexander. 72 He is. convinced that certain conceptual structures of the (later) Kabbalah can be (re)discovered in pre-kabbalistic texts. has recently made the very same distinction between “communion” (which he assigns to “theistic systems. “Unio Mystica in Jewish Mysticism. declares simply – and simplistically – that Scholem’s judgment regarding the place of unio mystica in Merkavah mysticism “has now been rightly rejected by those who have taken up his challenge that scholarship take Jewish mysticism seriously” and refers.Copyrighted Material 18 Introduction mystica as the core of mysticism. Zaehner. his chapter. With the Yahweh of the Old Testament. As a prime example of this bias Idel quotes Zaehner: If mysticism is the key to religion. 2006). Philip Alexander. but does this necessarily mean that Zaehner’s distinction between “communion” and “union” is wrong (notwithstanding the question of whether or not one is inclined to call such a communion “mysticism”)? After all. gnostic. Herodian Judaism and New Testament Study (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck. Zaehner (a well-known historian of religion of Scholem’s generation) an overtly anti-Jewish bias. p. Visionary experience is not mystical experience: for mysticism means. definitely not prone to anti-mystical attitudes. as one of his major proofs. one cannot avoid the impression that he is driven more than necessary by a zeal to turn almost everything Scholem wrote on its head. however. 3. assumes with Christian scholars like Carl Jung and Robert C. 69 Robert C. 8. if it means anything. then we may as well exclude the Jews entirely from our inquiry: for Jewish mysticism.70 In Idel’s attempt to prove that the ecstatic type is the dominant strand in Jewish mysticism and that the striving for mystical union is therefore its predominant characteristic. greater than the empirical self. p. All the Glory of Adam. Idel concludes. no such union is possible. Pre-Christian Judaism is not only un-mystical. in particular in the talmudic. which in turn are conscious of an unbridgeable ontological gap between the Creator and the created”) and “union” (which he reserves for pantheistic systems). with n.” in Kabbalah: New Perspectives71 jumps immediately into the ecstatic Kabbalah proper72 and does not deal with Merkavah mysticism at all. Fletcher-Louis. 4.69 The Christian bias of the sentence about the “Yahweh of the Old Testament” is unmistakable.

77 Here we finally rid ourselves of the model of unio mystica as the ultimate litmus test for the quality of a mystical experience.. “Mysticism. becoming divine or angelic. Insofar as the One is beyond intellect and being. is alien to the Jewish sources: The Jewish sources. 186 f.. 60. the so-called Self Glorification Hymn from Qumran (but not in the Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice) and.”76 This Neoplatonic model.73 Influenced mainly by Abulafia’s peculiar kind of mysticism. but rather by the ascension of the human into the heavens. pp. 163–183. the word “mysticism” should be used only when there is evidence for specific practices that lead to an experience of ontic transformation. e. He calls this approach “reconstructionalist”. but rather on the “angelification” of the human being who crosses the boundary of space and time and becomes part of the heavenly realm. Instead..” JQR 85 (1994). Hekhalot literature) as starting point of the inquiry. pp. Qumran sources. … The mystical experience in this framework involves as well a closing of the gap separating human and divine. Among contemporary scholars.75 Wolfson finally gets to the root of the problem by stating that the modern scholarly tendency to focus on mystical union as the very essence of mysticism is informed by Neoplatonic ontology.” pp. Elliot Wolfson has made the most progress regarding a typology of the mystical experience that does not just include (alleged) ancient manifestations of Jewish mysticism but instead takes these ancient manifestations (apocalypses.74 Responding to a paper by Qumran scholar Bilhah Nitzan. beginning with the apocalyptic and Qumran texts. it is inappropriate to apply the word “mystical” to the unison or harmony of human and angel if there is no technique or praxis that facilitates the idealization of a human being into a divine or angelic being in the celestial abode. “Harmonic and Mystical Characteristics in Poetic and Liturgical Writings from Qumran. 186. “Mysticism. he posits. . may provide a different model based not on henosis. 76 Wolfson. 77 Ibid. 73 Ibid. 32 ff. Wolfson finds “mysticism” in the ascent apocalypses (which he does not discuss).” p. 185–202. the assumption that “contemplation of God results in a form of union whereby the soul separates from the body and returns to its ontological source in the One. i. 74 Wolfson. Accordingly. 75 Bilhah Nitzan. by the return of the soul to the One. the return to the One is depicted in figurative terms as a mystical merging of the soul in the Godhead. According to this definition. Idel takes the idea of a Jewish unio mystica to the extreme. pp. in the Hekhalot literature. … In my opinion. p. however. now is introduced the notion of heavenly ascent as leading to an ontic transformation of the adept and resulting in his angelification or deification. not. most prominently. namely.Copyrighted Material Introduction 19 except for a couple of sentences about the transformation of Enoch into Metatron. see his Kabbalah: New Perspectives. which falls for him under the category of a unitive experience. The advanmystical literature.

the rise of mysticism out of or rather within the husks of the institutionalized classical form of religion coincides with the ro78 Ibid. This is particularly true for the ascent apocalypses and probably also for the Qumranic Self Glorification Hymn. in using the term “deification” alongside the term “angelification. But are the angels really hypostatic divine powers – or could it be that Wolfson succumbs here to Neoplatonic categories alien to the apocalyptic. But are they really the same? True. and Hekhalot literatures? This question and its implications are likewise discussed in my concluding chapter. I discuss the textual basis for this interpretation in my concluding chapter.” thus placing God and his angels to a certain extent on an equal plane. But Wolfson wishes to go much further. “a critical part of the ascent experience is the enthronement of the yored Merkavah.”78 Through this ingenious move Wolfson manages to declare angelification an essential part of the Hekhalot literature as well.” Wolfson avails himself of another artifice.Copyrighted Material 20 Introduction tage of this definition consists in the fact that it does not impose a terminology on the ancient texts that is alien to them (such as “mystical union”) but takes the experience described in these texts as its starting point: the ascent of a human individual to heaven that is indeed seminal to the apocalypses and the Hekhalot literature (while being less so for the Qumran sources). of course. p. is Enoch’s metamorphosis into the highest angel Metatron. rather. as we have seen. either on the chariot itself or on a throne alongside the throne of glory”. 193. The prime example for the transformation of a human being into an angel.. He never explains the two words but simply pretends they are both the same (employing them as a binomial and mostly connecting them with the innocent conjunction “or”). For him. and it is this enthronement of the adept “that transforms him into an angelic being. Also. there can be no doubt that in some of these texts the individual undergoes a bodily alteration that transforms him into an angelic being.” that they become God? I suspect that Wolfson reaches his equation of angelification with deification by identifying the angels acting before God’s throne with “hypostatic powers of God. human beings are sometimes transformed into angels. a transformation that facilitates his vision of the glory and the hypostatic powers of God that are active before the throne. the major Hekhalot texts involve not only an ascent of the adept to the heavenly realm and his participation in the heavenly liturgy. hence. Origins For Scholem. Qumranic. . but does this also mean that they are “deified. if the angels are in fact “hypostatic powers.” then it makes little difference if the mystic is angelicized or deified. Finally. but the Hekhalot literature poses a problem.

that is. So the quest for origins appears to be highly charged territory. to some extent. 80 79 . 83 See in more detail my Mirror of His Beauty: Feminine Images of God from the Bible to the Early Kabbalah (Princeton. constitutes a return to the “old unity which [institutionalized] religion has destroyed. As to the former. to be sure. But as we have already seen. 81 Ibid. Ursprung und Anfänge der Kabbalah. these are much more obvious in Origins of the Kabbalah than in Major Trends.82 As to the latter.”80 So. This phase. to say the least. origins and beginnings Scholem. since it seems to presuppose two different origins: one of “Jewish mysticism” in general and another one of “Kabbalah” in particular (although. the mystical phase of religion is born. this description reveals a certain tension. p.83 whereas in Major Trends he remains rather vague about the origins of Jewish mysticism. If we disregard the tension between “mysticism” and “Kabbalah.79 Hence. seasoned with a heavy dose of German romanticism. his romantic tendencies. In his quest for the origins of mysticism. It is in Origins of the Kabbalah that he tries to uncover the remote and mythical “origins” of the Kabbalah in the “oriental” Gnosis of the first centuries ce. Major Trends. more precisely. emerging at a certain point in space and time in the history of a given religion. apart from the proposition that Jewish mysticism originated in the romantic period of Judaism. Ibid. beginning with the innocent “childhood of mankind” in primordial mythical times81 and ultimately culminating in mysticism as the highest form of religion (its conflicting tendencies notwithstanding). 8. literally.Copyrighted Material Introduction 21 mantic period of religion.” mysticism. 218 ff. where the world of mythology and that of revelation meet in the soul of man. 2002). p. moreover. he clearly presupposes a linear development. but on a new plane. romanticism is the catalyst of mysticism: once romanticism breaks through the solidified forms of religious institutions. can nevertheless be seen to emerge (despite its mythical roots in prehistoric times) from very real historical circumstances: it is the driving force that transforms institutionalized religion into something new. mysticism brings religion back to its old mythical roots – roots that were covered by the agglomerating sediments of religion’s institutionalization. is characterized by a revival of mythical thought and therefore. 82 Ultimately seeing mysticism as a universal condition of humanity in Underhillian terms. 7. Scholem reveals himself to be a true heir of evolutionary models within the history of religion. according to Scholem. a higher and revitalized form of the religion under discussion.. NJ: Princeton University Press. pp. This dialectic between mysticism’s mythic origins and its historical manifestation is obviously what Scholem tried to capture in the tricky German title of his book on the origins of the Kabbalah. Kabbalah remains part of Jewish mysticism).

But what does this mean for the Jewish religion? What is the institutionalized form of the Jewish religion out of which mysticism emerged? Scholem remains in this regard rather vague.”86 as Scholem puts it. p. With his attempt to incorporate the prerabbinic apocalypses into nascent mysticism. one would expect the emergence of mysticism to occur at the peak of halakhic development (let’s say with the appearance of the Bavli) and not at its beginnings (with the appearance of the Mishnah). as we have already seen. . and with regard to the substance of the institutionalized religion he clearly has in mind rabbinic Judaism.. be included as the first stage in his taxonomy of the first phase of Jewish mysticism? The ascent apocalypses were certainly not motivated by any particular halakhic considerations. he sensed something important. with “beginnings” so conspicuously dropped from the title of the English translation. Scholem’s description of the origins of the earliest manifestation of Jewish mysticism is a tangle of contradictions. Moreover. not just. Also. for his part. Yet he was reluctant to follow this intuition. n. 85 See the apt summary in Alexander. 86 Scholem. I venture to say. which for him serves as the epitome of a halakhically oriented form of Judaism: only when the Halakhah becomes too rigid (this is the underlying premise) is it time for mysticism to break through and inaugurate a new era. 137. and although Halakhah plays an important role in Qumran. p. also happen to be the heroes of Merkavah mysticism – although the first half of the second century ce can hardly be characterized as the epitome of rabbinic Judaism’s halakhic obsession. 34). if mysticism is a reaction to rabbinic Halakhah.85 To portray rabbinic Judaism as entrapped within the rigidity of the Halakhah and therefore in need of the liberating forces of mysticism smacks ominously of certain Christian prejudices. as he specifies (if not uses as an excuse). see the full quotation above. p. he wavers between the first century bce and the talmudic period for the emergence of the first stage of Jewish mysticism. 84 “Early stages” is what the English translation uses for Anfänge in the first sentence of the first chapter of the book (Scholem. no one would wish to classify the Qumran sect as a specific form of institutionalized Jewish religion (Scholem. 40. Aqiva. In terms of the lowly spheres of chronology. the most important rabbis of tannaitic Judaism. 45. As has been observed by several scholars. if the institutionalized religion of rabbinic Judaism triggers mysticism. 87 Ibid.Copyrighted Material 22 Introduction (or early stages)84 of the Kabbalah. because “to do so would involve a lengthy excursion into historical and philological detail”87 but first and foremost. p. Ishmael and R. 3. Major Trends. Origins. because he was transfixed by his own definition of the origins of mysticism. makes no attempt to consider the Qumranic Halakhah). this definition of rabbinic Judaism is in itself problematic. But Scholem needs to have the early stage of rabbinic Judaism in the first two centuries as the hotbed of mysticism because R. how then can the “anonymous conventicles of the old apocalyptics. Mystical Texts.

to be sure. on the contrary. in the double sense of the beginning of my research and the beginning of the manifestation of the phenomenon. “mysticism” – or whether they ultimately fall apart into disiecta membra. remains to be seen. I deliberately refrain from any preconceived definition of mysticism and use the word (in fictive quotation marks) only because it is the label that 88 This is the definition of the word “origin” as given by The Oxford English Dictionary. 202. 2538–2545. vol. Moreover. Karl Euling (Leipzig: Hirzel. namely. merely allowing the historical process to unfold instead of trying to prove something that has been established from the beginning. Whether these ideas can be tied together under a common denominator – for example. not in a linear development from A to B to C but as a polymorphic web or network of ideas that are not free-floating but manifest themselves in certain practices of individuals as members of certain communities. 10. 933. . After all. Oxford 1961). It will therefore come as no surprise that I will not be using the term in this sense. as the beginnings of something that has subsequently been labeled “Jewish mysticism. if one does indeed exist. Deutsches Wörterbuch. So I will use the term “origins” in a much more modest sense. for their part.Copyrighted Material Introduction 23 The Origins of Jewish Mysticism Bearing in mind Scholem’s grandiose but ultimately failed scheme.” the other part of our investigation’s taxonomy. More precisely.88 and which. “origin” denotes both the source from which something springs as well as the act of arising or springing. vol. which literally means “that which rises or springs from something primordial”. 7 (repr. 2nd ed. scattered limbs. see The Oxford English Dictionary. mark a crucial turning point in the history of the respective religion – this term “origins” has proven to be highly problematic. vol.” And with “beginnings” I do not mean an absolute and fixed beginning at a certain place and time but a process that extended over a protracted period and was not bound to one particular place. not to mention the attempts of his successors. I will employ a heuristic model of inquiry. I expect it to materialize differently at different times and places. fragments of something that in fact never achieved unity. But this common denominator. see Jacob and Wilhelm Grimm. ed. p. I do not envision this process to be linear and progressive.3.. we start with the assumption that “mysticism” is not an ideal construct suddenly descended from heaven but a historical phenomenon that has established itself in space and time. Hence. 11. p. can only be determined at the end of our investigation and not as some theoretical construct at its beginning. one cannot ignore the necessity of determining the historical conditions under which a certain phenomenon arises. it would seem futile to try to design a theoretical model of the origins of Jewish mysticism within the developing Jewish religion. The same is true for the German Ursprung. The same is true for “Jewish mysticism. in due time substantiates itself under certain historical circumstances that. On the other hand. The term “origins” as the mythical source from which something arises or springs out of the primordial past. cols. 1936).

serves as a scapegoat for almost everything that (supposedly) went wrong with Scholem’s approach. it is I alone who has decided which texts representing certain authors or communities to include in my inquiry. and I also make no secret of my preference for definitions that take as their starting point the literary evidence as it has been preserved to the present day. with regard to the material basis of this study.” In analyzing certain core texts I attempt to capture and describe the “toponymy” and nomenclature of these texts on their own terms. Yet this dilemma can hardly be avoided unless one wishes to cast such a wide net that the exercise becomes useless.” I am even prepared. Indeed. As has already become clear with the term “origins. the various texts and communities have not volunteered as subjects for this enterprise. rather. To be sure. however. including its Jewish incarnation. I am interested in methods that are most suitable not just for solving textual problems but also for bringing out what the texts themselves seek to convey. on the contrary. .” I am aware of the vicious circle that such a pointedly pragmatic approach entails. I start with the assumption that it is our task to allow each set of texts and each community represented by certain texts to speak for themselves.89 My methodology arises from these clarifications. in the post-Scholem era. I make no secret of my reservations regarding the view that the unio mystica is the epitome of mysticism. does not confine itself to philological exercises. “origins” and “mysticism. but of course always with an eye to what they may or may not contribute to the question of “mysticism. 9–30 (in Hebrew). to accept a result that declares it to be a category of no real use or meaning within the history of the Jewish religion and that ultimately pronounces it dead. pp. to tell us what it is they find important and wish to emphasize. That being said. but I believe there exists no other or better solution that at the same time avoids the risk of imposing a preconceived definition on the texts. some of which have been discussed above. as far as “mysticism” is concerned. “The Mystification of the Kabbalah and the Myth of Jewish Mysticism. methods that do justice to the linguistic and historical parameters of a given text still seem to me most appropriate. This method. I have not attempted to reinvent the wheel but rely entirely on the corpus of texts that has emerged in a long tradition of previous scholarship. I return to this question in my concluding chapter. Accordingly. I ultimately and deliberately juggle two unknowns. Taking the texts as my starting point. But of course I keep in mind those definitions that have been suggested by scholars of mysticism in general and Jewish mysticism in particular.Copyrighted Material 24 Introduction scholarly tradition has long attached to the texts I will be treating.” Pe‘amim 110 (2007). It is concerned with locating the various phenomena under discussion in their historical contexts 89 See Boaz Huss. and I am not afraid of resorting to the allegedly old-fashioned and outdated historical-critical method – a method that. it takes the historical circumstances surrounding the texts very seriously. Hence.

“Interestingly enough. Moreover. Both belong together. below. The most recent example of this approach is Idel’s Ben: Sonship and Jewish Mysticism (London: Continuum. and essentialist construct.” “I would like to now address. I leave open the question as to what may or may not be judged mystical. and see furthermore Y. Idel defines this approach as follows: Thus. Hence. Thus. ideal. who apparently knows from the outset what these phenomena are. quotations from many different periods and literatures. pp. 94. although not exclusively.” “Let me / us turn to …” (the preferred phrase). If this method is able to connect given phenomena diachronically. my approach uses phenomenology in order to isolate significant phenomena and only thereafter to elaborate upon the possible historical relationships between them. XVIII f. I am also interested in “significant phenomena” that may be related to “mystical patterns of experience. namely the evaluation of the possible historical relationship between related phenomena. this does not necessarily presuppose a linear development of essentially the same “thing” – indeed.91 This becomes Idel. To be sure. Enoch.” Kabbalah 6 (2001). quite the opposite: it reckons with substantial changes over time that ultimately challenge the “identity” of the phenomenon. It offers many new and creative insights.90 This statement is not as innocent as it sounds.” “In this context it should be mentioned. In other words my starting point is the unfolding of the phenomenological affinity between two mystical patterns of experience. “Adam.” but. pp. Tzvi Langermann’s critique of Yehudah Liebes. propagated by Moshe Idel and his followers. I do not believe that such “mystical patterns” can be discovered and delineated – let alone compared with each other – outside their respective historical contexts.” and so forth.Copyrighted Material Introduction 25 and not just seeing them as free-floating entities beyond space and time. In fact. Constantly arguing against the usual suspects who. but methodologically it presents a breathtakingly ahistorical hodgepodge of this and that. unlike Idel. in his view. If one wishes to discover in my methodological preferences elements of what has been classified as the “phenomenological” approach. impose a wrong and simplistic logic on the texts. 91 90 . But in no way does it aim at a synchronic description of a phenomenon detached from space and time. both come before the next step. For a critique of Idel’s approach. in this book Idel has developed his method of leaps in logic and intuition to the extreme. preceding their historical analysis per se. pressed into scholarly sounding categories such as “apotheotic” and “theophanic” but in fact lumped together by sentences like “Let me discuss now …. and most important. see Lawrence Kaplan. then so be it – to a certain extent. Idel’s phenomenological approach runs the risk of dehistoricizing the phenomena it is looking at and establishing an ahistorical. Kabbalah: New Perspectives. I do not think that one can neatly distinguish between the isolation of “pure” mystical phenomena as such and their subordinated historical condition. 2007). despite his rather moderate and modest definition. and Metatron Revisited: A Critical Analysis of Moshe Idel’s Method of Reconstruction. 73–119. the phenomenological approach also serves historical aims. and furthermore. n.

has been aptly criticized in Ra‘anan S.92 Hence. in my view. The use or rather misuse of the “phenomenological approach” in Vita Daphna Arbel. what is ultimately at stake in Idel’s version of the phenomenological method is mysticism as a timeless religious phenomenon that deserves not a “secular” historical analysis but a clarification of its practice. 246–53 (in Hebrew). prefer to be excluded – I nevertheless do not wish to judge the legitimacy of the enterprise. 124). “The New Age of Kabbalah Research: Book Review of Ron Margolin. Reviewing Yehudah Liebes’s Torat haYetzirah shel Sefer Yetzirah (Jerusalem: Schocken. feel excluded from such an enterprise – and indeed. 131. Manifestations of Power in Jewish Mysticism. in the Zohar and in the Lurianic writings). on the mystical practice. It may well have its place in the framework of some institutionalized versions of “Jewish thought” or “Jewish theology. including certain orthodox Jewish circles today. The Human Temple. Although he sometimes explains why he believes that a certain parallel is or is not significant. See the illuminating review essay by Boaz Huss. Jonathan Garb. for example. Boustan rightly points out that Arbel completely ignores the long tradition of the phenomenology of religion school and instead favors a “spiritualizing psychological interpretation” of Merkavah mysticism that is “grounded in a fundamentally private. interior. Idel’s students went even further along this route and advocated a phenomenology that focuses on the universalistic aspects of the mystical experience (devoid of its historical constraints). “The Contribution of Abraham Abulafia’s Kabbalah. pp. Beholders of Divine Secrets: Mysticism and Myth in the Hekhalot and Merkavah Literature (Albany: State University of New York Press.” p. this new approach uses academic scholarship and its results as building blocks for a new.” but it should be aware of its exclusivity. rather than constructing arguments. and on its ramifications for our religious life today. deliberately abandons the realm of secular academic research in favor of a new theology. postmodern mystical Jewish religion..” Aleph 2 (2002). 2003). and it cannot and must not pretend to be the most consequential and comprehensive approach to the Jewish form of mysticism in the post-Scholem era.Copyrighted Material 26 Introduction even clearer if one takes into consideration the fact that. Liebes applies no consistent method of analysis to the parallels adduced” (ibid. 123–126.” Te’oriyah uViqqoret 27 (2005). 92 93 . whereas Idel’s phenomenological method is open to the ongoing living experience of mysticism. and contemplative-meditative experience” (p. 177 f. pp. for one. Tzvi Langermann.93 It goes without saying that the extreme version of this approach must be reserved for practitioners of the Jewish religion – for how could a non-Jew contribute to this ultimate goal? – and thereby.). Melila Hellner-Eshed. he relies on innuendo. pp. Boustan’s review in JAOS 125 (2005). the historical-philological method favored by Scholem and his school of secular academics results in an unbalanced preponderance of the theosophical-theurgical strand of Jewish mysticism (as found. “On the Beginnings of Hebrew Scientific Literature and on Studying History Through ‘Maqbilot’ (Parallels). if not some New Age spirituality. 2000). according to Idel. A River Issues Forth from Eden. If I. 94 For a devastating critique of the school of “Jewish thought” in Jerusalem – its neglect of history as a discipline and its exclusive reliance on “parallels” (maqbilot) – see Y. pp.94 Idel. 169–189. Langermann concludes that Liebes “merely juxtaposes the sources. In essence.

Unlike his precursor Ezekiel. is that of the Book of the Watchers (1 Enoch 1–36: late third century bce?). The figure’s overwhelming impression is that of radiating fire: God’s body is of human shape but its essence is fire. I am not interested in illuminating the relationship between Jewish mysticism and Kabbalah. and on the other by the Hekhalot literature as the first unchallenged manifestation of Jewish mysticism. I thank Ra‘anan Boustan for having drawn my attention to Langermann’s article. is not an end in itself. But Enoch only attains to the open door of the heavenly Holy of Holies from where he sneaks a peek – not at God but at “Nevertheless it seems to me that Liebes’ exclusive attention to maqbilot – along with his obliviousness to the limits of this method – stems from the relative neglect of the particular demands of historical writing” (ibid. in heaven. to see God on his throne. . the earliest of which (Qumran and related literature) others have identified as the birthplace of Jewish mysticism. Enoch ascends to heaven. Rather. however veiled or revealed. He sees a human-like figure that still bears little resemblance to an ordinary man. an audition). Ezekiel’s vision sets the tone for the subsequent traditions: a fourfold relationship between and among a somehow accessible heaven. in which Enoch experiences a vision of God in heaven (ch. The second chapter turns to those ascent apocalypses that revolve around the enigmatic antediluvian patriarch Enoch. I focus exclusively on that early phase of Jewish mysticism that Scholem has divided into three stages. I demonstrate that it conveys a message to Ezekiel and his community (the vision is complemented by. the description goes remarkably far in Ezekiel’s case. namely. who. the object of the vision. from now on the ascent becomes the predominant mode of human approach to the God who is enthroned in heaven. more precisely to the heavenly Temple. p. as it once was in the time of the patriarchs. Yet the appearance of God. the message that God is still there. although the Temple will soon be destroyed. or rather climaxes in. The first and oldest Enoch narrative. Kabbalah as a distinctly medieval phenomenon that presumably begins in the twelfth century ce in Provence and extends well into our present day remains outside the parameters of my survey. Therefore.Copyrighted Material Introduction 27 The scope of my inquiry in the chapters to follow is delimited on the one hand by the book of Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible as the starting point. God as the object of this vision. 188). and a revelation as the purpose of the vision. a problem that has been so inadequately addressed and even conspicuously glossed over by Scholem and his heirs. I begin with the famous first chapter of the book of Ezekiel – Ezekiel’s vision of the open heavens with the four creatures carrying God’s throne and the “figure with the appearance of a human being” seated upon this throne (chapter 1). derived from the biblical Vorlage. according to the tradition. As to God. did not die a natural death but was taken up by God into heaven. God does not need the Temple – the whole cosmos is his Temple.. a human seer or visionary who has a vision. 14).

this transformation plays a prominent role in 2 Enoch. the heavenly Temple has become the complete and perfect counterpart to the earthly Temple. who aspires to be one of them. includes. Ultimately. for it is only in angelic form that he can approach as close to God as he desires. and dressed in heavenly raiment. Instead. in Enoch’s case. This critique of the Watchers. . The chapter begins with the Apocalypse of Abraham (after 70 ce). Levi sees “the holy Temple and the Most High upon a throne of Glory”) but rather the message conveyed by God: Levi is invested with the insignia of the priesthood. who have defiled themselves and brought evil upon the earth. the climax of Abraham’s vision is his participation in the angelic liturgy. the next apocalypse to be discussed in this chapter. It has nothing to do with Enoch. Only hinted at in the Similitudes. but they add a new element that is alien to the earlier apocalypses: Enoch’s transformation into an angel. who make their first appearance as the companions and interpreters of the visionary during his heavenly journey in the Testament of Levi. However. The third chapter also deals with ascent apocalypses. where Enoch is stripped of his earthly clothes. this angelification of the seer is no mere end in itself: God reveals to Abraham the future history of Israel. The angels. a God-like state. They will corrupt the priesthood until God appoints a new eschatological priest whose priesthood will endure forever. but now Enoch is replaced by a variety of heroes. a kind of compensation for the fact that Abraham is not allowed to see God. the purpose of the exercise is not the vision as an individual experience but is an audition. God no longer resides in the Jerusalem Temple but has withdrawn to his heavenly abode. who accompanies Abraham on his journey. it grants the angel Iaoel. I will argue. anointed with holy oil. which still follows the older Temple-critical motif and lacks the explicit physical transformation of the seer. clearly indicating his transformation from a human being into an angel. The Similitudes or Parables of Enoch (1 Enoch 37–71: late first century bce / turn of the era) and the Second Book of Enoch (first century ce) retell Enoch’s ascent to heaven in the Book of the Watchers. his successors will not live up to the task. become now the role model for the human hero. which may well imply his transformation into an angel. This Temple-critical motif continues with the Testament of Levi. with the desecration of the Temple and the necessity of its destruction at that history’s center. But again. And as with Ezekiel. but in its oldest form (the Aramaic Levi document) it has been dated to the middle of the second century bce and attributed to the same circles whence the Book of the Watchers originated. the vision of God is not the primary goal of this narrative (in a very reduced form of a vision. Again. an implicit critique of the (rebuilt) earthly Temple: since the Temple in Jerusalem has also been defiled. God’s revelation that the Watchers will be condemned forever.Copyrighted Material 28 Introduction his raiment behind a veil of fire. yet unfortunately.

Isaiah. I use the word “communion” here deliberately. the deceased righteous are superior to the angels (and hence to Isaiah in his present state) since only they can actually look at God. who is the one at whom the revelation is directed and who is transformed – not just into an angel but into a divine power next to and of equal rank with God. pp. The ultimate transformation (into a deceased righteous) and vision (of God) is left to the last stage of Isaiah’s human journey.95 In retreating to the shores of the Dead Sea because of the pollution of the Jerusalem Temple. during their liturgical worship. In chapter 4. during the eschatological battle between the “Sons of Light” and the “Sons of Darkness. where Zephaniah’s ascent to heaven is described as the last journey of the righteous soul to its place in paradise. The same 95 An earlier version of this chapter appeared as “Communion with the Angels: Qumran and the Origins of Jewish Mysticism. we observe a decisive shift from the destiny of the community to that of the righteous individual. the Qumran sectarians join their voices to the praise of the angels (Hodayot). is himself transformed into an angel. But there remains a major difference between him as a member of the angelic company and the deceased righteous. during their joint worship with the angels. the highest stage that a human being can achieve. 37–66. as being transformed into angels. who populate heaven together with the angels. Instead. as in the Apocalypse of Abraham. This last step is taken in the Apocalypse of Zephaniah (end of first century or beginning of the second century ce?). Here.” in Schäfer. despite its Christian provenance. This communion can take place either on earth – when. In fact. God remains completely unseen – or else he got lost in the missing pages of the single remaining manuscript. in ascending to heaven during his lifetime (like his predecessors) and in entering into a liturgical union (unio liturgica) with the angels. this community drives the Temple-critical motif to its extreme. the chosen remnant of Israel. the Ascension of Isaiah (early second century ce). Wege mystischer Gotteserfahrung. his place is taken by the Lamb. . Only they. Jesus Christ. emphasized here is the Godlike state of the highest angel (Eremiel).Copyrighted Material Introduction 29 With the next apocalypse. the seer who undertakes the ascent recedes farthest into the background. I continue with the literature preserved in the Qumran community. achieve cultic purity as a priestly community that regards itself as living in communion with the angels. when. It has preserved many of the characteristics of its predecessors while transforming them into something intrinsically new. since it must remain an open question as to whether or not the members of the community envision themselves. The last ascent apocalypse to be included in my survey is the Apocalypse of John (written between 81 and 96 ce) because I regard it. when he returns to heaven as a deceased righteous. as deeply indebted to the Jewish tradition. whereas the angels see him only vaguely.” the angels descend to earth in order to lead the holy warriors to their final victory (War Scroll) – or it takes place (presumably) in heaven.

we enter a completely new realm. 1). while the latter. not with some kind of mystical experience. I argue. 18/20). he also holds that the souls of certain individuals (including his own) can undertake. actually and physically to be transformed into an angel. yet not of the human being in his body and soul but solely of his soul (which. for the hymns collected under the title Songs of the Sabbath Sacrifice. I demonstrate that the former is concerned with the public presentation and exegesis of the biblical text of Ezekiel. a “heavenly journey” that lifts the individual’s soul up in a state of ecstasy and frenzy and transforms it into a kind of divine essence. being of divine origin. be it of the community at large or of the individual that boasts of his elevation among the angels. that we encounter the idea of the divinization. If anywhere in the Jewish tradition it is here. during their lifetime.Copyrighted Material 30 Introduction is true. With the fifth chapter treating Philo. In the Qumran texts there is no description of the ascent. I posit that Philo is by no means concerned only with the postmortem return of the human soul to its divine origin. I therefore do not see any basis for the claim that the Qumran community constitutes the incubator that hatched Jewish mysticism and that the Qumran literature finds its mystical completion in the Hekhalot literature. I demonstrate that in all of the analyzed texts. the realm of a Jewish philosopher who was deeply imbued with the ideas of Plato and their Middle Platonic offspring. and the Merkavah (Ezek. It is only in the so-called Self-Glorification Hymn that the hero of this text imagines himself to be elevated among the angels in heaven. The complex and extensive rabbinic evidence of Ezekiel’s Merkavah and related traditions are discussed in two chapters. whereas the latter shifts the emphasis from the public realm of the synagogue to a pri- . The body is portrayed as the prison of the soul. creation (Gen. where the vision at least is the goal of the ascent (although its details often remain rather vague). The first of these. 1). I will argue. chapter 6. longs for its release from this prison and a return to its place of origin. the biblical and postbiblical unity of body and soul has been abandoned in favor of a radical and constitutive separation between body and soul. moreover. that is. no longer remains “his” soul in the strict sense of the word but is replaced by a divine essence). begins with the public exposition of Ezekiel 1 in the synagogue and with the famous restriction in m Hagigah 2:1 regarding the biblical subjects of forbidden sexual relations (Lev. The same is true also for the other important ingredient of the experience as described by Ezekiel and the ascent apocalypses – the ascent. Now. Contrary to the prevailing trend in research on Jewish mysticism (or even in Qumran scholarship) I contend that the vision of God plays a strikingly marginal role in the Qumran texts and much less of one than in the ascent apocalypses. This Platonic concept has far-reaching consequences for our subject. for the first time in Jewish history and the history of the texts with their respective communities that we discuss. the visual aspect of the enterprise is almost completely neglected.

I show that the Yerushalmi editor leaves no doubt as to his concern with the exegesis of problematic biblical passages and that he. we finally tackle the Hekhalot literature. that is. Instead of choosing and reconstructing certain key concepts out of the voluminous and chronologically as well as stylistically and thematically disparate literary material. I analyze the respective contexts in which the Yerushalmi and the Bavli processed them. that later editors tried to adapt them to the Merkavah mystical ascent experience. However. albeit in different contexts and in a different sequence. within the array of such passages. in the earliest form that we can reconstruct. My analysis concludes that these seven stories. With chapter 8. seems to have placed more weight on the exposition of the work of creation than on the exposition of the work of Merkavah. focus not on a mystical experience but on the exegesis of what they call the “work of creation” (Gen. the rabbis seek their God not through an ascent to heaven but through exegesis. in my seventh chapter I turn to the structure in which they are presented in the two Talmudim. The Bavli editor also emphasizes his interest in the Merkavah as an exegetical discipline. 1) and the “work of the Merkavah” (Ezek. Having discussed the seven Tosefta stories as separate and quasi-independent units. But there can be no doubt. respectively.Copyrighted Material Introduction 31 vate teacher-student relationship in which the “dangerous” biblical subjects of creation and the Merkavah in particular are perceived as an esoteric discipline reserved for the rabbinic elite. I suggest that he received these elements from outside sources that were strong enough to compel him to include them. I again adopt a heuristic approach. the literature that for almost every scholar embodies the first climax of the fledgling mystical movement within Judaism: Merkavah mysticism. although he appears intent on softening the strict ruling of the Mishnah. but unlike his Yerushalmi colleague he could not help imposing on his exposition of the Merkavah elements that do indeed smack of “mystical” experience. particularly in the Bavli. The Mishnah’s harsh restriction is illustrated by a cycle of seven stories that the Tosefta attaches to the Mishnah and that also appears in the Yerushalmi and the Bavli. but in each case I compare the Tosefta version with the versions in the Yerushalmi and the Bavli. Unlike the authors of the ascent apocalypses. that these rabbis understood the respective biblical texts as material for exegetical exercises and not for ecstatic experiences that aim at an ascent to the Merkavah in heaven. he does not display any mystical-experience leanings in his exposition of the Merkavah. in my view. there are clear traces in some of the stories. I follow the given sequence of some of the major Hekhalot . But it also becomes clear that he nevertheless felt obliged (as well as strong enough) to neutralize and rabbinize this in his view dangerous and unwelcome material. I discuss these stories as separate units in the sequence in which they appear in the Tosefta. Moreover. 1) as an esoteric discipline. that is.

primarily the guardians of the heavenly palaces and the guides of the worthy mystic – become the forces that are at the adept’s disposal for the accomplishment of a successful magical adjuration. as in some of the ascent apocalypses. of which the adept becomes part. namely. and 3 Enoch) as they are preserved in the manuscripts and try to evaluate what they have to tell us about our subject in their own terms and within their respective context. In addition. I posit that this liturgical union is again. the text labeled Hekhalot Zutarti in some later manuscripts puts great emphasis on the magical use of the divine names. within the narrative composed by the editor of Hekhalot Rabbati. the communal orientation so conspicuous in Hekhalot Rabbati gives way to a much more individualistic or even egoistic approach in Hekhalot Zutarti. Moreover. but even these are adapted to the editor’s main message.Copyrighted Material 32 Introduction texts (Hekhalot Rabbati. It is this message that God wants the Merkavah mystic – the new Messiah – to bring down to his fellow Jews as the ultimate sign of salvation. I demonstrate that in Hekhalot Rabbati we encounter a clear tendency to disappoint or even frustrate our expectation of the depiction of God on his throne (to be sure. What emerges is a highly complex and multilayered network of ideas that cannot and must not be reduced to the heavenly journey of the mystic and his climactic vision of God in the highest heaven. To be sure. it serves to convey the message that God continues to love his people of Israel on earth. Next follows a survey of the Shi‘ur Qomah fragments preserved in the Hekhalot literature. rather. since it is not a unio mystica that our editor wishes to convey but rather a unio liturgica. And the angels – in Hekhalot Rabbati. Hekhalot Zutarti. an expectation cunningly fueled by the editor). In its multifarious complexity. Quite in contrast to Hekhalot Rabbati. in a certain layer of it we do find ascent traditions similar to those of Hekhalot Rabbati. no end in itself. But as I will argue. wishing instead to impress us with endless and exhausting descriptions of the heavenly liturgy. even though the Temple is destroyed and the Merkavah mystic must undertake his dangerous heavenly journey to visit God on his throne in the heavenly Temple. a liturgical union of the Merkavah mystic with God through his participation in the heavenly liturgy that surrounds God’s throne. and more important. that is. the Hekhalot literature offers us much more than just a report on the ascent of certain rabbis. with R. Shi‘ur Qomah. this strategy seems to be quite deliberate. the traditions that assign God gigantic body dimensions to which hundreds of unintelligible names are attached. Aqiva and his students as the heroes. and it is one of the goals of this chapter to capture this “more” and to put the ascent traditions in their appropriate frame of reference as presented by the editor(s) of the texts. My analysis of the respective texts in the Hekhalot literature goes against the grain of the thesis in- . that the ascent primarily results in neither a vision of God nor in the adept’s participation in the angelic liturgy but in the knowledge of the divine names and their proper use.

Gnostic. the magical use of these names. instead. and Christian sources. In contrast. that the mystic’s vision of the gigantic body of God serves as the climax of his ascent. consequently. as the antagonist of Jesus. . from his heavenly abode. The last subsection of this chapter turns to the Third Book of Enoch (3 Enoch). I hold that what is at stake here is not the dimensions of God’s body but the knowledge of the appropriate names attached to the limbs of God’s body and. in my view the latest offspring of Hekhalot literature. Only when the idea of vast angelic dimensions was usurped by the Christians did the (later) Jewish traditions – as they are preserved in the Shi‘ur Qomah – transfer these gigantic dimensions to God and claim that they were suitable for God alone. and not for angels or other figures that might dispute God’s position as the one and only God. the human being Enoch returns as the main hero of the text. I insist that we need to take the rather late date of 3 Enoch seriously and cannot connect Enoch’s transformation into Metatron directly and monolinearly with early (pre-Christian) Jewish traditions – such as the hypostasized “Wisdom” and “Logos” or the “Ancient of Days” in Daniel with the “Son of Man” as his allegedly younger companion – in order to utilize Metatron for the reconstruction of an (early) “binitarian” Jewish theology. and I propose that it was originally angels in the Jewish tradition to whom gigantic dimensions were attributed. I compare the Shi‘ur Qomah traditions in the Hekhalot literature with some related evidence that has been adduced from Jewish. In a way that is unparalleled in the ascent apocalypses as well as in other texts of the Hekhalot literature. intercedes on behalf of God’s beloved people on earth. I argue against the suggestion made by Scholem and others that the Shi‘ur Qomah traditions are essential for the Merkavah mystical speculations. I posit that Enoch’s transformation into Metatron in 3 Enoch may well be a response to the New Testament’s message of Jesus Christ as the divine figure second only to God who takes his seat in heaven “at the right hand” of God. Here. and is assigned the unique title “Lesser YHWH. that they are a particularly old layer of the Hekhalot literature.Copyrighted Material Introduction 33 augurated by Scholem and accepted by many scholars. Finally. completes and ultimately concludes the movement of the Merkavah mystics. Understood this way. namely. The human individual who ascends to heaven and returns from there with God’s message to the people of Israel is replaced by a human-divine savior figure who.” Against an increasingly fashionable trend in modern scholarship. the ascent of a rabbi (Ishmael) to the highest heaven recedes in importance. Quite in contrast to this still prevalent trend in research. Furthermore. the highest angel in heaven. Enoch is physically transformed into Metatron. Metatron. and that they emerged out of the exegesis of the biblical Song of Songs.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful